Breast pumps are heaven-sent for mothers who are eager to continue nursing even while they are busy at work and those who cannot breastfeed the conventional way because of latching problems (either the child has cleft palate or the mother has a condition that prevents her to do so). In addition to that, breast pumping stimulates the production of milk.
That last bit of information answers the question posted above, but that doesn’t end there, of course. To fully understand the issue raised, we need to know the how starting with a little breast physiology. Don’t worry, we’ll try to make this part as quick and a little less drab as possible. Okay, without further ado, here’s what your breasts can do.
The alveolar cells of the mammary gland forms breast milk due to the stimulation of the hormone called prolactin. When the baby sucks at a breast, the nerve impulses located at the nipple travels to the brain (specifically the hypothalamus) to trigger the release of prolactin. Breast milk is constantly formed behind the nipple. This is called the fore milk. Its availability does not depend all that much at how much the breast is stimulated – either through sucking of a baby or breast pumping.
You need that sucking pressure for oxytocin. Oxytocin forces the milk out via a let-down reflex. The hind milk (new milk) comes out making your baby grow big due to its high fat content.
Supply and Demand
Basically, the production of breast milk follows the law of supply and demand – the more milk is expressed, the more milk is produced. This may not apply to all women. There will always be an exception, of course. Some may have a medical condition (e.g. Galactorrhea or inadequate lactation) that hinders their milk production regardless of the effort they put forth in ensuring that their milk supply is sufficient.
There are other ways that helps maintain a good milk supply, too. The amount of fluid a breastfeeding mother consumes per day is very important. It is recommended that the mother drink six 8 oz glasses of fluid per day. How much food you eat is just as important. Lactating women are encouraged to increase their caloric intake by about 500 per day.
A breast pump’s pressure is constant as opposed to a baby’s. Some baby’s have a stronger sucking reflex while others don’t. Some infant’s sucking pressure can be as high as 200 mm Hg while some babies have a sucking pressure of 50. A breast pump can provide a consistent suction pressure of 200 mmHg (maximum of 220 mm Hg for automatic pumps).
A good suction pressure helps in boosting the flow of milk and maintaining an adequate milk supply. This is why experts suggest that the mother use breast pump right after feeding to empty the breast fully. A completely emptied breast help promote a good milk supply. Pumping for at least 5-10 minutes after the baby has been feed stimulates the production of milk as well and improves milk ejection.
Breast Pumping and Engorgement
Breast pumping also eases out the breastfeeding problem lactating mothers’ face: engorgement. Engorgement is actually a sign that your breasts are healthy and are very much capable of producing milk.
Although transient, engorgement can be a painful experience. The primary intervention for engorgement is expressing the breast milk completely. This becomes a problem when your baby does not suck properly. Breast pump is used in lieu to cure an engorgement episode.
Breast pumping exclusively does not dry up one’s milk supply. It actually does the opposite when used properly. If you feel that your milk supply is dwindling down despite exerting a lot of effort to keep it substantial, talk to a certified lactation consultant, a community health nurse, or your doctor about it. Certain measures can be made by health experts to make sure that you will continue to provide the best milk for your baby.